Redbacks seek drought-breaking title
South Australia have not won the Ryobi Cup. They never won the Ford Ranger Ranger Cup. Nor the ING Cup, the Mercantile Mutual Cup or the FAI Cup. It's so long since their last triumph in the state one-day competition that it was called the McDonald's Cup at the time. That's five name-changes ago. The season was 1986-87. David Hookes was the state's captain. Glenn Bishop made a century in the final.
And Darren Berry was a 17-year-old, still two years away from making his state debut. Now he is South Australia's coach, the man responsible for steering the Redbacks to what could be a drought-breaking achievement when they take on Tasmania in the decider on Saturday. Last summer, Berry helped deliver the state their first silverware in 15 years with a win in the Big Bash final.
Two titles in two years would be a real sign of improvement for the Redbacks, although they remain winless in the Sheffield Shield this season. They enter the match with three of the top five Ryobi Cup run scorers this summer - Michael Klinger, Tom Cooper and Callum Ferguson - and in the knowledge that they are hosting the match at a ground where they have been undefeated in this campaign.
"Not being arrogant about it, but we're expecting to win," Berry told ESPNcricinfo. "We've been the top team all year, we've won four games at the Adelaide Oval, our expectation is to win. Anything short of that would be a disappointment.
"It's been too long between drinks. It has been a long, long time. Then again, last year when I came across with the Twenty20 it had been a long time since they'd had some silverware and we got 28,000 people here last year to the final. Adelaide sporting people normally turn out for a big occasion. I hope they do Saturday night."
The Redbacks are certainly hoping for a big, partisan crowd. The SACA has decided to open the gates and allow free entry, and the prospect of seeing their state win a title might not be the only reason fans will turn out. There is also the chance to see Ricky Ponting play his first state final since the 1993-94 Sheffield Shield decider.
The availability of Ponting is about as big an inclusion as a domestic side could hope for. One of the major challenges for Berry and the South Australia bowling coach Joe Dawes is to make an inexperienced bowling attack believe that Ponting is just another batsman, and is vulnerable like all others. To that end, his poor run in the ODI side over the past fortnight will be mentioned.
"We would probably prefer that Ricky was still in the Australian side," Berry said. "But he's here and he's a right-hand batsman that we just have to dismiss and at the moment, he's showing some frailties in his game and in his technique so he's as gettable as anybody.
"But we have enormous respect for him and last time he batted on the Adelaide Oval he got a few. We just need to factor in that in his last five one-day innings he hasn't got past 10. We always say that we need to play the game, not the name. Nathan Lyon is champing at the bit. He's got a good relationship with Punter and I know he's desperately keen, he'd love to get him out."
Tasmania will be a difficult opponent, and Berry conceded he would have preferred to face another team in the final. This will be the fourth one-day decider in five years for the Tigers, who won in 2007-08 and in 2009-10. Unlike the Redbacks, they have few men who have dominated with either bat or ball this season, but instead have a consistent group in which every player has pulled his weight.
"I've got enormous respect for Tasmania, for [coach] Tim Coyle and what he's done with this group over the last four years," Berry said. "What they are is they're well-drilled, they know one another really well, they've got a really good team camaraderie - the things we are trying to instil here in Adelaide with this group."
Tasmania have only two players who have scored more than 200 runs in the campaign, Ed Cowan and the captain George Bailey, and likewise there has been no standout in their attack. But a solid bowling group consisting of Jackson Bird, James Faulkner, Luke Butterworth, Ben Laughlin and Jason Krejza won't be daunted by South Australia.
"They've got a very good batting line-up, they're very solid at the top of the order and have some very solid players through the middle and lower order where they can score quickly," Coyle said. "They've always had a pretty heavy reliance on spin bowling and they've got quality spinners. Nathan Lyon is an outstanding one-day bowler and Aaron O'Brien the same. It's a very good team and they're highly respected by us.
"But we go to Adelaide knowing that we've got nothing to lose. We've played in a lot of finals lately and we're pretty used to it. There's definitely a home-ground advantage. There'll be a big crowd there, the gates are open free of charge. There's a bit of pressure there with a big crowd to play in front of. We'll go in with a free spirit and with the big inclusion of Ricky Ponting."
The match begins at 1.45pm in Adelaide on Saturday.
South Australia Michael Klinger (capt), Daniel Harris, Callum Ferguson, Tom Cooper, Theo Doropoulos, James Smith, Cameron Borgas, Adam Crosthwaite (wk), Aaron O'Brien, Joe Mennie, Nathan Lyon, Jake Haberfield, Gary Putland.
Tasmania Ed Cowan, Jon Wells, Ricky Ponting, Mark Cosgrove, George Bailey (capt), Matt Johnston, Luke Butterworth, James Faulkner, Ashton May, Brady Jones (wk), Jason Krejza, Ben Laughlin, Jackson Bird.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here